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DIY Welding Rod 


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DIY Welding Rod 

Written By: Hackett 


Digital pocket scale (1) 

Hot plated) 

Pliers (1) 

Safety glasses (1) 

Tempered glass cooking vessel (1) 

Toaster oven (1) 

scrap metal round stock (1) 
or mortar & pestle 


Silica gel packets (1) 

collect them from shoeboxes, etc. 

100% lye (1) 

sold as a drain cleaner 

2' metal wire or coat hanger (1) 

Newspaper (1) 

Plastic Cup (3) 

Nitrile or latex gloves (1) 

plastic stir sticks (1) 
or wooden 


There are a bunch of DIY welder articles and how-tos out in the maker ether, ranging from 
the super-simple, dumb, and brutally effective (three car batteries, wired in series) to the 
high-tech and fancy (TIG machines from microwave bits, oxy-hydrogen torches from split 
water and plumbing supplies). With all of the information out there, it is safe to say that 
experienced makers will be expertly fusing metal even if an oddly specific, exceptionally 
brutal catastrophe were to strike the welding industry. If civilization and supply chains 
collapse the anti-zombie fences will still get built, and the Thunderdome will be sturdy and 
made from steel. 

However, all of the DIY welders I have seen assume you have access to welding rod. For 

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DIY Welding Rod 

the less weld-informed (see what I did there?) a good, solid weld involves more than melting 
and fusing metals -- the weld zone needs to be free of oxygen, otherwise the normal 
oxidation of metals that leads to rust, patinas, and discoloration happens at a dizzyingly 
rapid rate, accelerated, as are many chemical reactions, by the high heat. This is not just an 
aesthetic issue -- the oxidation happens inside the weld, so instead of a solid metal bond you 
get a brittle foam filling. Removing the oxygen is usually achieved by flooding the weld area 
with inert gas -- regulated, pressurized gas from a separate tank in the case of MIG and TIG 
welding, gas created from vaporizing flux in oxy-fuel, stick and flux-core welding. The 
standard, coated arc-welding rod is the common currency of welding, used to hold the world 
together. They are ubiquitous. You can get them everywhere. Until you can't. 

Even the finest DIY welder is useless without welding rod. I did a bunch of research, Google- 
ing and drilling down through increasingly sketchy forums, ranging from the mainstream DIY 
to the super-sketchy survivalist fringe. Tons of interesting information on every imaginable 
topic, but, as far as I can tell, it seems like no one has ever made their own welding rod and 
documented it online. A minor, but potentially crucial gap in the DIY world, solved here. 

My first step, as is often the case, was to look up patents. Patents lay out the crucial core of 
a technology, the bits that make that particular invention unique, new, patentable. Often, the 
process involved in the making of the thing is laid out as well, protecting the inventor's rights 
to the means, as well as the ends. This keeps patent attorneys employed, and provides a 
nice step-by-step for MAKE writers to rip off. 

After a little searching I dug up the patent " Electrode for Arc Welding ," filed by Reuben 
Stanley Smith, a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1918. (Mr. Smith was a prolific 
inventor, churning out 45 patents for pumps, manufacturing processes, and welding 
equipment. Some more info on him can be found here .) 

Basically, a steel rod is wrapped in cellulose (paper) soaked in sodium silicate. The 
wrapping is crimped to maintain close contact with the rod. The electrodes are then dried out 
(I used a toaster oven - a rod oven, or some time in the sun should do the trick as well.) 

The rod is the electrode and filler, the paper/sodium-silicate wrapper spews out shielding gas 
upon combustion, and provides a path of plasma to guide the arc. The rod does not deposit a 
protective ceramic slag like modern welding rods, but, as Mr. Smith states in the patent, "I 
have found, also, that the coating of slag produced by the use of known covered electrodes 
is not essential to the production of eminently satisfactory work." I tweaked the patent 
procedure a little to use commonly available materials, stuff one would reasonably find 

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DIY Welding Rod 
around the house. 

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DIY Welding Rod 

• Gather materials. You will need 
coat hangers to cut into welding 
rod, silica gel packets (usually 
labeled "Desiccant: Do Not Eat" 
and packaged with electronics, 
shoes, and other things that hate 
the damp.) and lye to make into 
sodium silicate, and some decently 
absorbent paper (I used 

• Tools: a hotplate to cook the lye 
and silica gel into sodium silicate, a 
glass container to heat it in (use 
glass or a non-reactive ceramic 
container -- no metal, or Bad 
Things might happen), a scale, a 
toaster oven to cook the finished 
rods (I suspect that hot sunlight or 
a rod oven would work as well), a 
pair of pliers, nitrile gloves for 
safety. Safety glasses would prob 
be a good idea. I needed a mortar 
and pestle to grind up the silica gel 
beads, but I do not have one, so I 
used a steel rod to roll out the 
beads . 

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DIY Welding Rod 

The first step is to make the sodium silicate (also known as "water glass," used for 
destroying engines and as an adhesive. If you have some lying around you can skip this 
step). Empty out the silica gel packs until you have a pile of beads about the size of a 
shrew or large walnut. 

Get smashy with the silica gel beads. I tried to crush them by whacking them with the end 
of a steel rod, but they flew all over the place. Next step was to rig a paper cover over the 
"mortar," but that did not work very well. 

A tactic that kind of worked involved folding the beads into paper, then rolling the package 
with the rod. A real mortar and pestle would have worked better, but this was good enough, 

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DIY Welding Rod 

Hangers are usually covered with paint or clear varnish to keep them from leaving your 
clothing wrinkle-free, but stained with rust. (This is actually totally conjecture on my part 
as far as I know, I have never used a hanger for the intended purpose.) 

Sand away the varnish or paint until you are left with a shiny rod of steel. 

Time for some chemistry. Zero 
your scale. 

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DIY Welding Rod 

Sodium silicate is made from water, silica gel, and sodium hydroxide (lye). The proportions 
(by weight) are six parts silica gel (crushed as best you can), four to eight parts lye (four 
will work, eight is stoichiometric, anywhere in between is fine) and ten parts water. Weigh 
out the parts individually. 

Wear gloves and goggles for this part. A little lye in the eye or in a cut on your hand will 
ruin your day. 

Step 7 

• Heat the water, then slowly add the 
lye while stirring. If you just dump 
the lye in you will get a solid, hard 
lump of a brutal base at the bottom 
of your heating vessel. The only 
way I found to remove it was 
neutralizing it with some decently 
strong hydrochloric acid. It totally 
looked like Science, but was an 
annoying waste of time. 

• Heat and stir until you get a clear, 
but ominously thick solution. Be 
wary, but not too afraid -- it can 
smell your fear. 

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DIY Welding Rod 

• This next part can be tricky -- you need to add the silica gel powder to the lye/water 
solution, but just a little bit at a time. Take the solution off the heat when you add the 
powder, then return it to the heat while you stir. If you leave it on the heat too long it will 
boil over in an instant. If it gets too cool the silica gel will not go into solution, and clump at 
the bottom. 

• The result will be a gummy gel. Sodium silicate! 

Straighten the hanger, then cut pieces of welding-rod size: about a foot long will work. 

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DIY Welding Rod 

Step 10 

Cut some paper a little shorter than your rod. It should be wide enough for eight to ten 
wraps around the steel. 

Step 11 

Paint a layer of sodium silicate onto the paper. You want the paper to be as saturated as 
possible -- I found that painting both sides allowed the sodium silicate to soak in nicely and 

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Step 12 

Roll the saturated paper around the steel rod. Try to get it as consistently tight as possible. 
For me, this is far harder than one would think. 

Eight to ten layers of paper will do. Smooth the layers as they go, and smoosh the trailing 
edge into the rest of the wrap. 

Take a pliers and crimp the gooey paper tightly into the rod. Why? The patent states "The 
principle object of this is to secure uniformity in the density of the coating on all sides and 
thus prevent the coating from disintegrating faster on one side than another to such an 
extent as to destroy the crater. The creasing or scoring also tends to retard the 
transmission of heat and affords a means whereby the disintegrated portions may become 
detached, assuring the maintenance of a crater rim of uniform or regular contour." That's 

Step 13 

Bake the rods. This drives out moisture, and also makes a carbonized shell that keeps the 
rods intact when stored. I let them cook at a low heat for about fifteen minutes. You want 
them to be totally dry and deliciously golden. 

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Step 14 

Ok -- ready to test. I guess for maximum punk rock DIY points I should have tested them 
using a car battery welder, but the arc welder was right there. You are more punk rock 
than me. You win. 

Step 15 

I used the recommended settings 
for a 3/32 (ish) rod -- DCEP, 
around 100 amps. 

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Step 16 

• Striking an arc took a couple of tries, but once I figured out the correct distance and angle 
it burned almost as well as an off-the-shelf rod. Tons of smoke, though, and the arc was 
not super-stable. 

Step 17 

Totally welding with home-made electrode. Splattery and ugly (you can partially blame 
user error and a little bit of a learning curve) but definitely looks like a weld. 

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Step 18 

• Notice the lack of ceramic slag -- just some ash, 

Brushed it to see the glory of my weld. Looks OK, in parts. Again, you have to learn the 

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Step 20 

Weld side is not pretty. 

Back side shows good penetration. 

Chopped the weld up for a closer look. 

Step 21 

And success! No pitting, no craters, and total fusion of the metal. Welding, from home- 
rigged rods. Take that, zombies. 

Photography by Becky Stern 

This document was last generated on 201 3-01 -22 07:28:35 PM. 

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